CGID Head Calls Chief Justice Ruling on No Confidence Motion in Guyana “Activist in Nature”

Rickford Burke

By Nelson A. King /  CMC

NEW YORK – The New York-based Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID) says it disagrees with the ruling of acting Chief Justice, Roxanne George-Wiltshire, in upholding the constitutionality of the December 21, 2018 motion of no confidence that brought down the coalition government in Guyana.

The CGID said that after careful deliberation of the ruling by its legal counsels and attorneys it has concluded that Justice George-Wilshire erred in her interpretation of Article 156.3 (a) and (b) of the Guyana Constitution by ignoring the intent of the framers in its construction.

“We believe the ruling is ‘activist’ in nature, as, rather than interpret the intent of the provision, which is the role of the court, the acting Chief Justice apparently reshaped Article 156.3 (a) and (b), thereby rendering the provision, as originally constructed, unenforceable,” said CGID president, Rickford Burke.

Justice George-Wiltshire delivered a near four hour ruling on Thursday in three matters regarding the validity of the successful opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) motion of no confidence.

She had last month heard the arguments in the cases “Compton Reid vs The Attorney General, Persaud and The Speaker of the National Assembly; Christopher Ram vs The Attorney General and Speaker of the National Assembly and the Attorney General vs The Speaker of the National Assembly and the Opposition Leader.

The matters arose after the then government back bencher, Charrandass Persaud, who holds both Guyana and Canadian citizenship voted with the PPP in the 65-member National Assembly where the coalition government had previously enjoyed a slender one seat majority.

In her ruling, Justice George-Wiltshire also said that anyone who holds dual citizenship as envisaged by Article 155 of the Guyana Constitution “should not and could not be” a member of the Guyana Parliament.

Burke, an international law consultant, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that the institute also believes the ruling is contradictory.

He noted that Justice George-Wiltshire held that the election of a member of the National Assembly can only be challenged pursuant to an election petition within 28 days of the poll.
Burke said, consequently, absent an elections petition and the mandated statutory provision for such having expired, the High Court affirmed that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain a challenge to the validity of Persaud’s 2015 election to the National Assembly.

“Notwithstanding the lack of jurisdiction, the court proceeded, nonetheless, to declare that Persaud, as a consequence of his dual citizenship, was ineligible for election to the National Assembly, and that his presence, therein, was a breach of the constitution,” Burke said.
“Effectively, the acting Chief Justice disqualified Charrandas Persaud as a candidate for said election in which she held the court lacked jurisdiction to review,” he said, adding that the acting Chief Justice “exceeded the authority of the court by reinterpreting the ‘absolute majority’ entrenchment elucidated by Sir Dennis Byron, then Chief Justice of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in his judgement in Attorney General v Cedric Richardson (2018 CCJ-17-AJ).

“Moreover, the acting Chief Justice’s declination to stay her judgement pending appeal is extraordinary and enigmatic,” said Burke, adding that “the issues we have enumerated are fertile grounds for appeal.

“CGID, therefore, supports the government’s decision to appeal the judgement…in keeping with the rule of law. We look forward to the intervention of the Guyana Court of Appeals and the CCJ.”

Burke also commented on the Acting Chief Justice’s order disqualifying members of the National Assembly who possess dual citizenship.

“Although such disqualification was not pursuant to an election petition, as the acting Chief Justice’s judgement seems to mandate, her order effectively disqualifies several sitting members of the National Assembly on both the opposition and government branches, including several government ministers, from being members of Parliament.

“Particularly, unless the Guyana Court of Appeals, or the CCJ, grants a stay of the judgment, government ministers with dual citizenship ceased to be ministers of as of January 31, 2019,” Burke said.

Consequently, he said CGID urged President David Granger to “contemplate an immediate reassignment of ministerial responsibilities to ensure the continuity of government and delivery of services to the people of Guyana.”

But, although CGID disagrees with the judgment, subject to appeal, Burke said the institute still respects “said judgment as a function of our democratic system of government, which ensures that the rule of law is supreme.

“Further, we affirm the probity and distinguished service of the Honourable acting Chief Justice and eschew any attack on her integrity and honour,” he said.
On Friday, the main opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Friday called on President Granger to name the date for fresh regional and general elections in Guyana.

“Right now there is a valid decision of the court which says that the government has fallen and elections have to be held within 90 days, “Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, told a news conference. – CMC